Edison State trustees approve tuition increase, staff raises

Edison State College President Kenneth Walker

Edison State College President Kenneth Walker

Trustees at Edison State College on Tuesday traded a tuition increase for raises to staff.

In their last meeting before a new fiscal year, the board approved the $163.7 million 2011-12 budget, which included an 8 percent tuition increase required by the Legislature. The 2011-12 budget represented a $7.7 million increase from the current year, or roughly 5 percent, though enrollment has trended in the double-digits the last three years running.

Trustees meanwhile gave the go-ahead for the college to increase wages for salaried, non-teaching staff members by 4 percent and hourly staff members by 5 percent.

Just as the Legislature required tuition increases to offset state revenue losses, President Kenneth Walker said the salary increases were a matter of doing right by employees who have likewise suffered during the recession.

“As you all know, these are pretty difficult times, and although the government says officially there’s no inflation, it’s hard to convince folks of that when they go to the grocery store, and fill up their gas tanks,” Walker told the board after the pay increases passed.

Just a few tumultuous months ago, Walker came under fire internally and externally for his compensation, which totaled more than $832,000 in annual salary and benefits. He has since taken a voluntary pay cut of nearly 22 percent.

The increase in take-home pay for staff will be considerably smaller than the 4 and 5 percent approved Tuesday, however, after the Legislature this year passed a mandatory requirement that all state employees contribute 3 percent of their salary toward their state pensions.

Faculty were not approved for raises at Tuesday’s board meeting, as their pay is a matter of negotiation between the college and faculty union representatives. Union chief negotiator Marty Ambrose said the United Faculty of Florida chapter at Edison is still looking at dates to meet with representatives from the college for collective bargaining.

“We’re hoping we can get that same spirit of generosity and have our pensions reimbursed,” Ambrose said after the trustees meeting.

However, Ambrose did say that the union would be employing an attorney to bargain on its behalf at the table. Relations between faculty and college administration have been tense since the hiring and subsequent ouster of former Senior Vice President James Browder, who at one time held the position that would have represented the college in negotiations.

While Walker has introduced a half-dozen measures to restore trust and transparency at the college – he voluntarily released his employment evaluations last week in spite of the college attorney’s opinion that it was not subject to the state’s Public Records law – relations at times have continued to appear strained.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Faculty Senate President Don Ransford delivered a standing report to the board, including several reminders about the faculty’s desire to be part of an audit of administrative structure and pay, and was met with a rebuke by Walker.

“I’d like to say I certainly agree with Mr. Ransford and want to work with the faculty, as I’ve said on previous occasions, however I’ve not seen a great amount of response from the faculty on that effort,” Walker said. “It’s a two-way street.”

Walker pointed out that the presidents of each campus’ faculty senate declined to join him for one-on-one meetings roughly one month ago, and he said Ransford failed to deliver a written list of recommendations Ransford read at the last Board of Trustees meeting in May.

“I have to question what your motive is,” Walker said. “I would say let’s be honest, let’s have the truth. Transparency works both ways, and I would certainly like to see transparency coming from you.”

Ransford, a math professor, was not available for an interview after the meeting, which concluded just as he was on his way to teach a class.

In other actions:

■ The board approved the write-off of $354,731 in delinquent accounts from the college’s books, most of which was from tuition and fees never paid by students. Some might be recouped in future years, but Vice President of Financial Services Gina Doeble noted that as the college’s enrollment and revenues have gone up in recent years, the percentage of those accounts that become delinquent has not increased more than a few tenths of a percent.

The board also removed $864,837 in college property from inventory, representing mostly obsolete computers and other hardware.

■ New officers were elected: Chairwoman Mary Lee Mann, of Fort Myers, the outgoing vice chair who took over for David Klein after he resigned from the board in March; and Vice Chairwoman Ann Berlam, of Naples.

■ Trustees voted to approve an agreement with the Edison State College Financing Corporation that will have the college oversee management of a new student housing complex. The college had discussed hiring an outside contractor to manage its first-ever, 400-bed dormitory, but instead chose to keep those operations internal.

The $26.2 million apartment-style dormitory is slated for completion in 2012.

Connect with higher education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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